The newly minted Russian Handball Federation team played to a draw in the opener of their first match of the International Handball Federation World Men’s Handball Championship on Thursday, despite being heavy underdogs (+250) to Belarus.

Russia vs. Belarus
Russian athletes competing as the Russian Handball Federation battled to a tie in the first round of the International Handball Federation (IHF) World Men’s Handball Championship on Thursday. Thirty-two teams are taking part in the two-week event hosted by Egypt.

Seven group games continued the action on Day 2 of the two-week, 32-team tournament in Egypt.

Russia a Team Without a Country in Doping Scandal’s Wake

The Russian team plays without their nation’s emblems or flag on their uniforms, or their anthem being played, after being banned from significant events for the next two years following a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In the ruling announced last Dec. 17, the team’s proposed four-year ban was cut in half. The ban results from findings in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s case that accused Russia of state-ordered tampering of a testing laboratory database in Moscow.

Many are watching how the RHF team handles playing without an official country to represent as a precursor to the upcoming Tokyo Olympics, where athletes will be tasked with playing under similar guidelines in the wake of the doping scandal that has plagued the nation.

Russian Athletes Can Still Compete, but Not for Russia

As it stands, Russian athletes and teams can compete at this summer’s postponed Olympics as well as at the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing if athletes don’t test positive for banned substances between now and then.

Russia’s 32-32 draw with Belarus (-200) was a tight match throughout. The match was knotted at 15-15 at the break, and both teams scored 17 goals in the second half.

Uladzislau Kulesh of Belarus was named man of the match after scoring six goals in a game; both teams earned a point toward advancing to the next round.

Algeria Outlasts Morocco, Portugal Defeats Iceland

Over in Group F, heavy favorite Algeria (-450) barely bested Morocco (+475) 24-23 at New Capital Sports Hall in Cairo. Looking to pull a major first-round upset, Morocco led 15-8 at the break, but Algeria regrouped and came out one point on top.

Also in the Group F bracket, favorite Portugal narrowly defeated Iceland 25-23, and Sweden (-350) cruised to a win over North Macedonia, 32-20.

North Macedonia was a late replacement for the Czech Republic, which experienced a COVID-19 outbreak within its ranks, forcing the team to withdraw from the tournament last-minute. A COVID-19 outbreak also forced the US team to withdraw from competition.

Norway Falls to France, Action Continues Friday

In other action, reigning world champions and underdogs France (+200) bested Norway 28-24 on Thursday.

Eight more group games are scheduled for Friday, with teams in Groups A through D due to play their opening contests of the tournament in empty venues because of COVID-19 protocols. Games are streaming in North America on ESPN Plus.

IHF World Men’s Handball Championship Odds: Groups A-D, Friday, Jan. 15

Favorite Underdog
Qatar +800 Algeria +725
Argentina -10000 Congo DR +2200
Croatia -3000 Japan +1650
Germany n/a Uruguay +2000
Spain -1100 Brazil +900
Denmark +10000 Bahrain +2200
Hungary n/a Cape Verde +2000
Tunisia +180 Poland -155

Odds via Bwin